Poppy Fleming asks: Why do we still need feminism.

Why do we still need feminism?

It is undeniable that in recent years women have gained more and more rights and their status in society has improved, which has led many people to believe that men and women are now equal, causing them to question the rise of feminism, however I don’t believe this is the case. Although our culture is evolving and the huge difference between the statuses of men and women is slowly becoming smaller, many inequalities between the sexes are still present. Before I highlight some of these I would like to make it clear that feminism isn’t “man hating” or thinking that women should be treated better than men. Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” (Oxford English Dictionary). It is just a simple movement for equality because in reality we are all the same: we’re all human.

As I was writing this I wanted to find out what other people my age thought about equality of the sexes so I asked people the question: do you think men or women are treated better or are they equal?

Men Women Equal

These answers show that the majority of the people asked thought men were treated better than women, with over 80% females asked thinking this. However just over half of the boys thought that men and women were treated equally, an obvious contrast to the opinion of the girls, showing that maybe they are unaware of lots of the issues surrounding the inequality of women and of what feminism really stands for.

In the UK the gender pay gap is currently at its lowest ever as the government are working to get rid of it completely, however women are still being paid considerably less than men, as the gap is currently at 18.4%. It is extremely unfair that in the same jobs women are being paid so much less than men for doing the same thing. In America women earn on average 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. This is down to both the gender pay gap and unequal opportunities in the workplace. The majority of senior roles and roles of leadership in companies are held by men even though there are women who have the same qualifications and experience, for example, as of February 2019 only 24% of parliamentarians worldwide were female even though women make up half of the population. However, women often doubt themselves more than men do and are less likely to push for a higher role so this inequality can not be blamed completely on the companies, although allowing more women into these roles would increase the confidence of others. This is one factor which has led to women of any age being more likely to live below the poverty line than a man the same age as them. This feeling of inadequacy among women is a reason why we still need feminism because it needs to be abolished.

As well as this, women are sexualised on a daily basis considerably more than men in seemingly harmless ways such as comments on social media and catcalling in the streets. This sexualisation has been scientifically shown to have negative effects on women’s mental health because it brings with it expectation to perform in the same way again which can put pressure on women but it also suggests that a woman’s main value is her sexual allure because for the most part, her appearance is what is commented on. Catcalling is a huge problem because to many men it seems harmless but they do not realise how unsafe and vulnerable it makes women feel. By ignoring the catcaller women risk the rejectee’s anger and insults, suddenly critical of their appearance, being hurled down the street. Responding, however, could lead to an even more unwanted situation. Related to this, a survey carried out on over 800 women in America a few years ago revealed the shocking statistics that over 97% of the women asked had experienced a form of street harassment or catcalling, 82% were targets of vulgar gestures, 57% said they had been grabbed or touched in a sexual manner by a stranger and 37% claimed to have had a stranger masturbate in front of them. This shows that this kind of behaviour is not a “one off” and cannot simply be blamed on what the women were wearing, for example. This clearly illustrates a much bigger problem that needs to be dealt with.

Furthermore, although social media has its many benefits, it can also be dangerous. It can firstly be bad due to the ability to communicate with another person without being face to face and secondly to talk to a complete stranger, features which can easily be used to your own advantage. For example, 10-15% of teenagers admit to sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to someone online and the most common reason given for this is peer pressure, even though sending or receiving these is illegal if you’re under the age of 18. As well as this, it is possible to send these photos without giving the receiver any warning, because there are no filters to stop them from being sent. A large proportion of women admit to having fallen victim to being sent unsolicited nude photographs from men, which although it is overlooked and ignored, is form of sexual harassment because the sender is forcing themselves onto the other person.

Leading on from this, the sex trade is still predominant today, with over nineteen million women sold into it without consent every year. Only 2% of sex slaves are men, which again demonstrates how the sexualisation of women has become too much. However, contrasting this, women are slut-shamed if they sleep with multiple people whereas men are praised for their achievements. How is this fair? At first women are over sexualised by men but then they are called “sluts” or “whores” by the same people for engaging in sexual activities which they were previously encouraged to take part in, which doesn’t seem to make sense.

Although our culture is becoming more aware of the severity of rape, victim shaming happens far too often. Recently, a young woman had her underwear held up in court during a rape case as evidence that she was “asking for it”. This is not acceptable. The cause of rape is rapists. It takes a huge amount of courage for women to speak up after being sexually assaulted due to the shame and stigma surrounding these kinds of issues. If someone is brave enough to open up about their experience we should not blame them for whatever happened. Only around 18% of rape cases lead to conviction although there is more often than not substantial DNA based evidence against the alleged attacker. This has to change because the thought of the hassle and embarrassment involved in taking your attacker to court is scaring women and preventing them from taking action because they are blaming themselves. All over the world women and girls are told not to dress too provocatively, not to walk alone in the dark and to always be wary of their surroundings. This is the start of the process which leads women to blaming themselves for rape when in reality they have done nothing wrong and the fault is entirely down to the rapist. This shows why we need feminism still because men are getting away with harming women because victims are too afraid to speak up because they are too often blamed for the incident, which should not be happening. The #MeToo movement would not have happened without brave feminist women realising the wrong done to them, speaking out about these crimes and inspiring others to follow their lead.

Currently in 29 countries across the world the practice of female genital mutilation is still common. This most commonly involves cutting or injuring the clitoris or labia in order to prevent females from enjoying sex and is performed on girls as young as 5 months to 15 years old to discourage them from engaging in multiple sexual relationships for pleasure. Not only does this physically harm the girls but it is also humiliating for them and unfair as they are losing the basic right to control what happens to their own bodies. As well as this, there are no laws against marital rape in 120 countries, meaning that husbands are able to force their wives into having sex whenever they want to. This is still rape and should not be acceptable as their marriage should not imply consent at any given time. Child brides as young as six years old are still legal in many countries which violates human rights because the girls have no choice and are forced to marry a man who is often much older than them and stay with him for their entire life. We need feminism today to stand up against this inhumane treatment of girls and women across the world and stop these things from happening.

In 1978 China introduced a rule called the one child policy which meant that each family was only allowed to have one child in order to tackle the problem of their growing population. However, if the first born child was part of a minority group (which included females) many families sought permission to have a second child. Roughly 53% of these appeals were approved but for the families with less money who had a daughter and their request was denied, the only option they saw was to get rid of their daughter, by killing her in the hope of having a son and avoiding the fine of having multiple children. This has resulted in the infanticide rates in China being extremely high, with girls being twice as likely to die before their first birthday as boys, and a second daughter three times more likely to die before hers than the first daughter. This rule has since been gotten rid of but there are still lots of families in China opting only to have one child for the same reason. The fact that this whole situation was allowed to happen for a number of years shows why we still need feminism because girls less than a year old were being killed because they were not good enough and this idea that women are inferior has been passed though the next generations and is still a common belief today.

Another way women have recently lost control over their own bodies is through the acts against abortion which have been introduced this year banning all or nearly all abortions in 14 states in America. Having an abortion in one of these states could result in the mother being sent to prison for murder. This violates the basic human right to be able to control what happens to your own body and is extremely unfair on women who want an abortion but live in these parts of America. Although abortion may be contradictory to religious beliefs such as the sanctity of life, this does not mean it should be banned for everyone because there can be extreme circumstances and not everyone shares the same beliefs. Another factor making this ban so frustrating is the fact that the mother will have to carry through a full pregnancy of nine months and then care for her child afterwards or put it up for adoption but the father doesn’t have to have anything to do with either the mother or child. This puts an unfair amount of work and pressure onto the mother, who may be underage or have been raped or just not ready to have a child, whereas the father is subject to no consequences. The phrase “my body, my choice” has become popular but has had very little effect on the situation. Feminism is still needed today to tackle unfair problems like this and create a movement towards change.

Typically, the idea of being a woman implies weakness in contrast to the idea that being a man implies strength. The words “bitch” and “pussy” are used in everyday slang to imply a meaning of cowardice and weakness however they can also be used to refer to a woman. It is questionable whether these words have double meanings or it is insulting enough to simply be called a woman, due to their lower status than men. One definition of the word “pussy” in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a weak, cowardly or effeminate man”. The fact that the words “weak” and “cowardly” are being used in this definition alongside the idea of femininity is extremely insulting to women and incorrectly stereotypes women as pathetic, making them seem inferior to men.

Even minor factors contribute to the reasons why we still need feminism today, such as the increased prices of basic household items such as shampoo, socks and deodorant when they are aimed at women. For example, from the same brand, a pack of five razors for women costs £2 but men can buy a pack of 10 razors of the same design, just blue rather than pink, for £3.50. It is highly unlikely that the colouring of the razors means that those designed for men are so much cheaper, meaning women are being charged extra for the same product. As well as this, every month most women menstruate and so require period products as a necessity. Periods are a natural function of them female body but women are forced to pay expensive prices for items they need due to “tampon tax”. Most items considered basic necessities are exempt from tax, however menstrual products are not even though they are basic necessities for almost every woman. One aspect that makes these high prices more frustrating is that men are given condoms for free. Engaging in sex is a choice but female hygiene is not and therefore menstrual products should be given for free, not paid for and taxed. In less developed countries an estimated 60% of girls don’t have access to sanitary products, causing them to miss school for an average of four days a month, adding up to 20% of the school year. In the UK one in ten girls can not afford period products which is disgraceful seeing as we are one of the most economically developed countries in the world.

In many countries, girls do not have access to an education in the same way that boys in the same places do. The right to an education is again a basic human right and should not be overlooked. It is not justifiable to stereotype these girls so much that they lose their opportunity to have an education. There are multiple reasons why girls are unable to have an education, such as not being allowed to, being unable to make the difficult and dangerous journeys to school and a lack of sanitation. This inability to have an education results in these girls being unable to make an income which is enough to live off of, meaning they have to rely almost entirely on their families to survive. This results in further inequality because the women are not bringing anything to help their husbands, causing them to be viewed as inferior.

It is clear from these reasons, although there are many more, that we still need feminism today to tackle issues, both big and small, which women are facing all over the world right now. In recent years people’s perceptions of women have improved greatly but there is still lots of progress that needs to be achieved in order to be completely equal.